The Sri Lankan reaction to the coronavirus pandemic was heavy-handed to say the least. The country’s government took no chances, mandating that all deceased victims of COVID-19 would be cremated, no matter the religious affiliation. In February, the government finally reversed its earlier decision and allowed deceased victims to be buried. This has resulted in a collective sigh of relief from those whose religious beliefs do not allow cremation — Muslims especially.
But Sri Lankan officials stand by their earlier decisions not to authorize burials. They clarified that the virus and disease were not well known at the time, and that scientists were not sure what would cause or relax its spread.
Former MP M.M Zuhair said, “Understandably, the medical experts were not very clear [earlier]. But, subsequent investigations and reports, including by the WHO, said very clearly that burials will not necessarily lead to the spread of COVID-19.”
Zuhair continued, “They were under tremendous psychological pressure of getting infected with COVID-19 as they were worried about the consequences. I am sure many would have avoided normal treatment if they were suspected cases due to the fear that they may be cremated in case they fall victim to COVID. Now the restoration of burials will facilitate the burial of Muslims and others who wish to be buried, and take away the people’s fear to seek treatment if they are suspected of having contracted the virus.”
Even so, officials acknowledge that the more likely reason that coronavirus burial restrictions were lifted was because of the Muslim reaction to cremation — and not because of new information, regardless of the fact that the new information does seem to give the “okay” to those seeking to bury friends and family who succumbed to COVID-19.
Others believe that the Pakistani Prime Minister’s recent visit also influenced the decision to scrap the cremation mandate.